People and culture

Tuva is the heart of Asia, and its culture stretches back to ancient times. The historical path of this ancient people toward independence through the rule of Genghis Khan, the Altyn-Khans, Dzungaria, and the Qing dynasty, was an extremely long one. Nonetheless, national self-identification developed in its own course. The unique culture of the Tuvans has been formed since ancient times, with its native language, religions of buddhism and shamanism, folk art and life ways. High mountain ranges surrounding this ancient territory serve as faithful guardians of the borders and help to preserve the culture and life of this nomadic people.

The nomadic way of life overtime gave way to a settled one, however mobile pastoralism remains one of the leading types of economy up until the present day. The number of sheep in Tuva is so great that even if you were to divide it in half there would still be 4 sheep for every resident of Tuva. On the steppes of Tuva, one can see herdsmen moving with their great herds from summer to winter pastures. To this day they use traditional yurts, made from felt over a wooden frame, which are easily portable and can be taken down in an hour. Other than this, hunting is a part of the Tuvan traditional culture which respects and protects nature and its riches. From generation to generation Tuvans have been raised to have respect for nature and its gifts, which gave rise to the special hunting rules of Tuvan hunting. Respect for the mountains, forests, and special places is connected with the locals’ respect for the local spirit masters. It is in these places where shamanic rituals are performed. Shamanism is very closely intertwined and exists peacefully side-by-side with Buddhism.

Tuva is known throughout the world not only for its powerful shamans, but its arts as well. Traditional throat singing, khöömei, accompanied by folk instruments made by talented masters, is well known in the world. There are also famous stone carvers who work with chonar-dash (agalmatolite or soapstone) and blacksmiths, called dargan. The decorative arts of Tuva are rich with silver works – jewelry, knives, brooches and buckles, horse tack, even pipes.

The Republic celebrates a number of traditional holidays, such as Shagaa, the Lunar New Year, and Naadym, the herders’ festival. Traditional dishes are served during these holidays, and festival occasions are usually accompanied by the performance of traditional throat singing (khöömei), archery competitions, traditional khüresh wrestling, and horse races.

The Tuvan language, part of the Turkic language family, has several dialects in different areas of Tuva. The Tuvan alphabet has 36 letters, it was a latin-based alphabet in the beginning of the 20th century, and before that business was conducted using the old Mongolian alphabet. The folklore of the Tuvan people is rich with tales, songs, riddles, epic poems and the like. Ancient legends and curious story are told in the native language from generation to generation, from parents to children.